Monday, September 26, 2011

Straddling Genres

by Jemi Fraser

So, you've written, rewritten, edited and polished your novel. You've written a synopsis and a query letter. Everything shines so brightly you need sunglasses to glimpse at it.

But let's have a closer look at that line in the query that says...

MY AWESOME BOOK is a science fiction historical western with a twist of fantasy, a romance that will make you glad you're alive, nonstop thrills and a villain who uses his victims for zombie experiments.

Yeah. No one's going to write it that badly, but a lot of people write books that cross into multiple genres. (And we're not going to discuss the age groupings today—that's a whole 'nother story!) So, what do you do?

Many stories have elements of a variety of genres. I've read many novels that cross into at least 3 genres and I like to write genre jumpers myself. But we shouldn't list all of those elements in the query letter.

Instead, as writers, we have to ask ourselves where the book is going to sit when (not if!) it hits the shelves of our favourite bookstores. There are no sections for science fiction westerns, never mind one with all of the other genres included in that summary above. So, head on back to the basics to decide.

Think about the hook in your query and the pitch you've created for when you meet those agents in the elevators (although I'm guessing a lot of agents take the stairs these days). You've probably already found the niche for your story. You've probably identified it in the pitch and the hook.

If your pitch/hook talks about the romance, that's what it'll be. If it's all about those magical elements or the paranormal abilities, it's under the speculative fiction umbrella. You can be more specific here (paranormal, urban fantasy, steampunk...) if you like.

In some cases, you might want to have a couple of different query letters. Let's pretend you've written a fantasy with a strong element of romance. If you're querying agents who represent romance, call it a romantic fantasy. If you're querying agents who focus on fantasy, call it a fantasy and show in the query that it is a romance, or call it a fantasy with a splash of romance. Remember you don't need to reveal every twist and turn in your query letter. The letter's job is to represent your book honestly and get the agent to want to read more. So focus on the aspects each agent is looking for.

Keep it simple. Limit it to a genre that shows up on a shelf in a bookstore. And personalize it for the agent. Then cross those fingers and press Send. Good luck!

38 comments:

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Focus on one aspect - check!

Jemi Fraser said...

Alex - I think it works best!

Lemons Don't Make Lemonade said...

Great tips! I used to want to be a writer when I grew up but getting someone to publish your stuff is just too cumbersome a process.

Old Kitty said...

I'm not yet at the query stage but these are brilliant and very sensible tips on composing a query not only of your novel but your novel straddling different genres (god help you! LOL!). Thanks Jemi! Take care
x

Linda Gartz said...

Makes total sense. Agents and publishers must know what they're dealing with and who the audience is.

thanks!

Shannon O'Donnell said...

Good call, Jemi! I think that makes the most sense. :-)

A.L. Sonnichsen said...

Great post, Jemi! I had this problem with my last book and called it a 'contemporary YA with thriller elements' in my query. But in hindsight, I could have just stuck with contemporary YA. So many YA novels get sort of thriller-ish at the end. Even Twilight! And I doubt Stephenie Meyer pitched her first novel as a thriller. :)

Amy

Jemi Fraser said...

Lemons - it really is a slow process. You need a lot of talent, a dose of great timing and luck doesn't hurt! :)

Old Kitty - yeah, I never seem to do things the easy way. Gotta add a couple of genres into the mix!

Linda - thanks! I'm glad you think it works!

Shannon - thanks! it never hurts to be logical - but it's so easy to miss the obvious when we're dealing with our own stuff :)

Amy - so true! I think with our own stuff, we are so attached, we want to share every angle we can! :)

The Golden Eagle said...

Thanks for the advice!

Jemi Fraser said...

Golden Eagle - you're welcome! Hope it helps :)

Alleged Author said...

This is a great post. An agent needs a good idea of the genre when we query, so we need to have it nailed down.

Jemi Fraser said...

AA - thank you! I think it is super important. If we don't know where the book is going to sit in that store, we can't expect an agent to trust we know what we're doing!

laughingwolf said...

so THAT'S why 'cowboys and aliens' stinks to high heaven... and not cuz they had no clue what to do with it? :P lol

Jemi Fraser said...

Laughing Wolf - okay, it doesn't happen often, but I laughed out loud at that one! You made my day! :)

LD Masterson said...

Well said, Jemi. I'm a genre jumper myself. Fun to write, harder to pitch

Lynda R Young said...

Yep, I'd agree with this advice. No sense confusing anyone with more info than they need.

Jennifer Hillier said...

This is a great post. I totally agree with limiting your genre in the query to something you'd actually see on a shelf in a bookstore. Makes it easy for the agent to know whether it's something they'd be interested in or not.

Simon Stone said...

While I totally agree, and it's simply the way things are, it's a shame. Readers aren't nearly as finicky as agents and publishers are about the exactness of where a novel falls within genre. But then agents and publishers are in it for the money, everyone else is in it for the pleasure.

Jemi Fraser said...

Linda M - thank you. They really are fun to write though! :)

Lynda - exactly. The more identities we try to give a story, the less clear it becomes.

Jennifer - thank you! I know if I was an agent, I'd prefer to know where it's going to sit before I read anything further.

Simon - good point. As a reader, I don't mind in the least if the story I'm reading has elements of several genres. Can be lots of fun! :)

Talli Roland said...

Great tips, Jemi. I totally agree - focusing on one and personalising the letter is the best thing to do!

Rklewis said...

Great post, Jemi! :-)

Susanne Drazic said...

Thanks for the tips, Jemi.

Holly Ruggiero said...

Great advice. I think when you refine it to just one it makes the query stronger.

Jemi Fraser said...

Talli - thanks! I'm hoping it'll work for me when/if I get to that stage! :)

Robert - thanks! :)

Susanne - you're very welcome - hope they help!

Holly - thanks! I agree - I think we're stronger with less rather than more!

Toby Speed said...

Thanks! Such a timely post for me. I'm straddling mystery and thriller in my queries.

~Toby

Jemi Fraser said...

Toby - you're welcome! Those are 2 genres that go very well together. You should be able to target a lot of agents with those ones. Good luck :)

Hannah Kincade said...

Good tips!

Jemi Fraser said...

Hannah - thank you! :)

Medeia Sharif said...

Great advice. I remember a few jumbled query letters from the past. It's best to keep it simple.

Jemi Fraser said...

Medeia - I agree. Simple works in most parts of my life, so why not this too? :)

Carol Fragale Brill said...

interesting. at a confernce last summer an agent suggested including at least 3 genres in a query so agents see a broad market.
my experience matches your advice...agents I've queried want the specific market to pitch. thanks carol

Jemi Fraser said...

Carol - wow! That's an interesting take. I've never heard anyone say that before! Hmmm. I guess that's why it's best to research those agents before sending off the letters! :)

Calista Taylor said...

I've struggled with this. As a result of mixing genres, I've found that it's never quite "enough" of one specific genre for most agents, especially when they want something very particular. If it's a mystery, then it needs to be a full on mystery. If it's sci fi, then there needs to be a ton of world building, etc., and when you mix genres, I think there's a tendency for things to get a bit muddled or "washed out". Great topic!

Jemi Fraser said...

Calista - It really is interesting. As readers, we know what we like - for myself I don't mind mixing up those genres at all. But it's not always easy (as you can attest!) to get the publishing industry as excited about it!

Leslie Rose said...

Great advice. I'm wrestling this with my latest MS, and I think that's what has made me procrastinate querying. I will now chant - "Place on the shelf-place on the shelf..."

Jemi Fraser said...

Leslie - love it! That is a great mantra. Hopefully yo'll get the query right. Good luck with you hit Send!! :)

TerryLynnJohnson said...

great advice here! thanks for this.

Jemi Fraser said...

Terry - thank you! :)